Thousands brave the rain to ‘Speak with their feet’ at Limerick protest

Protestors braving the downpour on the day. Photo: Cian Reinhardt
Protestors braving the downpour on the day. Photo: Cian Reinhardt

AROUND 2,000 concerned citizens, including celebrities, politicians and well-known sports personalities braved torrential downpours to shout “NO” to plans by Irish Cement Ltd to burn up to 90,000 tonnes of “toxic” waste per annum, at its production plant in Limerick.

Today’s protest was organised by Limerick Against Pollution (LAP), a group of concerned residents who live near the Mungret plant.

The group’s spokeswoman, Claire Keating, said they would appeal the EPA decision and, if necessary, they would take their protest to the European courts.

Claire Keating, Limerick Against Pollution. Photo: Cian Reinhardt

Local celebrity Love Island winner, Greg O’Shea, joined billionaire philanthropist and horse racing tycoon JP McManus, and former Irish, Munster, and Lions rugby hero Paul O’Connell, in supporting the massive protest.

Last month, despite receiving over 4,000 objections, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) upheld a decision by An Bord Pleanala, as well as Limerick City and County Council,  to allow Irish Cement burn used tyres, animal waste, sludge, plastics and other waste at its plant in Castlemungret.

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“When I heard what was going on with the license being passed, I couldn’t believe it. I thought I misread the situation initially,” O’Shea offered.

“Obviously, I don’t know how much of an impact I can have, but I’m showing my support anyway for my city. I’m proud to be from Limerick and we have just got to do our best,” he added.

Mr McManus, who kept a watching brief at oral hearings held by An Bord Pleanala last year, said today he remained “concerned” over the plans.

Rugby giant Paul O’Connell, traded the Munster roar for a silent protest, explaining that he was “speaking with my feet”.

Fianna Fáil MEP Billy Kelleher, who attended the protest, said he would gladly help bring the protest to Europe, and “supporting the appeal to the EPA”.

“Defintely, beyond that, anything we can do with a European dimension I would be supporting and advocating as well,” he added.

Protestors wore masks to highlight their issue. Photo: Cian Reinhardt

Cathaoirleach of the Metropolitan District of Limerick, James Collins, who lives near the Cement plant, said he feared he and other local residents would be “living under a cloud of incinerated toxic waste” should the plans go ahead, subject to an appeals process.

Protestors said they were concerned harmful toxins could be released into the environment, if the proposals are finalised.

Irish Cement has consistently refuted any suggestion of a public health threat from its plans.

It has stated previously that any waste used will be treated and disposed of safely.

The EPA stated last month, its “proposed determination” on Irish Cement’s application  “provides for the acceptance of non-hazardous waste materials”.

It explained the company must adhere to “more than 100 individual conditions relating to the environmental management, operation, control and monitoring of the installation”.

Protestors make their way toward O’Connell Street. Photo: Cian Reinhardt

It also stated it was “satisfied that the emissions from the installation, when operated in accordance with the conditions of the proposed licence, will meet all required environmental protection standards and will not endanger human health or harm the environment”.

The deadline for appeals to the EPA decision is October 15.

The public concern over Irish Cement’s plans is largely fueled after it was prosecuted in court for breaching the terms of its industrial emissions licence.

Last December the company pleaded guilty at Limerick District Court arising out of a prosecution brought by the EPA, to breaching the terms of its industrial emissions licence at its Limerick plant.

The company apologised and was fined €4,000.

The court heard a thick “glue-like” dust leaked from its Limerick plant, causing damage to nearby homes, cars and gardens.

The court heard Irish Cement Ltd had three previous convictions for similar breaches of its industrial licence, including two in July 2018, and one breech in 2007.